Small teaching approach: Retrieving


Retrieving is based on the theory that students' practicing the retrieval of information from their memory will positively impact their ability to retrieve that information in the future. Accessing and using information builds cognitive pathways that will strengthen with use. Retrieval works well with quick tasks that can be incorporated into existing class sessions without needing a course redesign.

How to apply this approach

Ask Opening/Closing Questions — Starting or ending class by asking students to recall information about previous content is a quick method that facilitates students’ retrieval practice. Examples: "Can someone remind the class what we talked about in the last class session?" "Can someone provide highlights from the assigned reading for today?; Without looking at your notes, what were the main points from today?"


Frequency matters — The more students practice retrieving course material, the better they will learn it. While a common strategy is regular quizzing, it requires grading time, especially with short-answer questions. Limit your grading workload through the use of auto-graded question types or mixing quizzes with opening or closing questions. Align practice with assessments — Use small retrieval practices that ask students to recall the types of information they will need to recall and use on high-stakes exams. Require thinking — Retrieval practices can go beyond the recall of basic facts by asking students to do something that applies the facts, such as making a comparison or a quick analysis of a specific point.

Quick Tips

  • Give frequent, low-stakes quizzes (at least weekly) to help students solidify their understanding of foundational concepts; favor short answers or problem-solving whenever possible to force students to process or use what they are retrieving.
  • Open class by asking students to remind you of content covered in the last class session; allow students time to reflect for a few moments to recall and formulate statements.
  • Close class by asking students to write down the most important concept covered and one question in their mind.
  • Have students take a short quiz, solve a problem, or answer written questions about the concepts covered.


Lang, James M. Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons, 2016. pp. 20-32.

Keywordssmall, teaching, retrieving, knowledge stDoc ID117973
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-04-14 11:43:09Updated2024-04-16 12:49:07
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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